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HomePod ’23 – if it ain’t broke…

I’ve been running the HomePod for about a month now…so, here’s my thoughts

HomePod 2023 v2

Was that all it was

HomePod – I hardly gave it a second thought. When Apple announced it, my debit card was out, primed and ready.

I already owned two HomePod minis, and was pretty happy with them. I had never owned the original HomePod, so was not going to be jaundiced by its legacy. But, I just knew that this time around, I wanted to have one of these speakers at home.

The missing link

HomePod had actually been the only Apple audio device that I’d never owned.

I’ve two HomePod minis, two pairs of AirPod Pro, and original pair of AirPods too. Just recently, I’d even added a pair of AirPods Max to the list as well – spoiler…they are blooming good too, and nearly worth the $549!

I am lucky, and spoiled, by having a choice of good audio gear around me. It all stems back to having built a broadcast radio studio at home that I used for nearly a decade. I love good audio, and try to have a decent speaker in most rooms at home. But, all that said, I wouldn’t call myself an out-and-out audiophile. I’m not even sure what the definition of one would be, but I know good from bad, and, I think, know enough to understand what I am listening to.

So, to the HomePod, which, for reference, lives in my 5m × 5m living room, working in tandem with my Apple 4K TV.

New – really?

I’ve spoken to people about the original HomePod, and recently, even took mine to a friend that had one of the OG speakers so that I could A/B them for myself.

What did, oddly come to mind, was that if that first HomePod was such a mitigating failure, then why after three years, did Apple decide to make the latest incarnation of it, a homage to the original? Set me to thinking, there must’ve been something right about it. Eerily, all those years on, even the price, on release, was about the same too.

However, as more and more of us are looking to make our homes smart, this new HomePod does highlight, and not in a favourable way, how slow Apple has been in progressing their smart home capabilities.

From my understanding, the new speaker has lifted most of its smart home functionality straight from the mini. At its heart is still an Apple Watch chip, all-be-it, the S7, rather than the S5 in the mini, but, essentially, the same heart beats within.

It offers temperature, and humidity sensors, but then, after a software update, so now do the HomePod mini’s. OK, there’s a Thread radio in the larger speaker, but the lauded Matter standard, which is where it’ll start to come in to its own, remains in its infancy.

So, if the brains, and smart home features are similar, what else do you get for the extra $200?

Back to the future

The difference is quite obviously in the sound that the HomePod can deliver over the mini.

When A/B’ing the original, and new HomePod, the sound was remarkably similar – particularly as the newest HomePod has two fewer tweeters.

Having recently been testing, and using the AirPods Max, what has come through to me, is that the high-end Apple audio products clearly have developed a sound signature that is very, well, Apple.

I mentioned in a video recently, that the vocals are very present – the sound engineers have scooped out some muddiness in the mids. This helps to make the vocals ever so clear, and obvious – which is a sound I happen to love. That same sound signature is now present on the new HomePod. The vocals seemed much more defined on the HomePod v2.

They have been cautious with the bass as well. An over-emphasised bass becomes tiring to the ears – very quickly. Sitting through a two-hour movie, with the bass woofers thumping away, is less than ideal.

The bass is still there, don’t get me wrong, but just a little less intense than that of the earlier version. The first speaker actually had a ‘reduce bass’ setting…leading me to believe they knew the bass was a little too much. Apple developed a 4-inch high-excursion woofer for this speaker, with this easier bass sound in mind – and it works!

Now, after many hours of listening to HomePod – both TV and music, I’d say they’ve plumped for a ‘safe’ sound, and that is no bad thing. These speakers will generally be used in a home environment, where their aim is to please as many pairs of ears as possible.

The two versions of this speaker sound so similar, but with the 2023 model just being a little more refined al round.

Judging a book

From the outside, the two speakers are ever so similar – at first glance, you’d be hard-pressed to notice any differences – except it’s a teeny-bit shorter. Other than that, the display, is still, well, a non-display in reality. It does very little, apart from show when Siri is working. That panel is larger, and now more recessed, and the power cable, detachable. Other than that though, visually, they look the same more-or-less the same.

That panel remains a disappointment, though. I know, I know, being a smart speaker means you’ll probably hardly ever walk over and use it. But, the flip side of that, is that it were more useful, or playful, then maybe you’d be encouraged to use it more.

If it could have mimicked the island on the iPhone, for instance, and shown waveforms, or album art – even just a track name, that would at least have felt like a meaningful step forward.

If you want to use the physical volume buttons on the speaker – good luck! They appear to be lacquered on, and don’t even light up when used, which at least the previous ones did.

The display screen is the one area I feel that Apple missed a trick – making that more intuitive would’ve made the speaker feel fresh and relevant in one easy swoop.

The elephant in the room

Siri.

I am not a huge user of the voice assistant, but, here’s my take on it when it comes to Siri and the HomePod – it’s the best it’s been.

It responds far quicker than the minis, or my phone. Siri on HomePod is the alpha-male of Apple’s voice. That response is notably sharper, probably due to the four mics that it uses. Furthermore, the speaker is supposed to use room sensing and advanced computational audio to ‘read’ your room. I can only assume it’s a combination of all those factors that are helping Siri work better on this model of HomePod.

Making it easy

If you’ve read any of my posts, then you’ll know I am an avid fan of handoff on HomePods. I loved, and used it on the minis, and I use the feature just as much, now, on this bigger HomePod. It’s no better than on the minis, but is still a party trick of HomePod that I love.

AirPlay seems stronger, more stable, and more reliable on this newer speaker. I can actually AirPlay content from another room to the speaker in my living room. I tend to play music on the speaker more through AirPlay than via asking Siri – so that’s a bonus for me.

Wrapping up

I’m in a better position than I was to write this today, having now heard the two models of HomePod side-by-side.

Apart from the awful experience I had with the set-up, the speaker has probably over-performed my expectations. Purely as a speaker, it sounds great. Easy on the ear, but emphasising those mids for enhanced clarity.

As a smart speaker, so far, so good. Siri works better on here, than on other devices. I am thinking of going the Philips Hue direction at home sometime too – then, I will be able to better judge it’s home hub abilities.

The last word on HomePod, for now at least, is that in the blink of an eye, I’d buy another to get that stereo pair experience back again. HomePod as a pair…..mmmmm – yes, please!

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